Rarely has a television series had such a recognizable recurring camera shot as seaQuest dsv (NBC, Sundays, 8-9 p.m.) does. This underwater adventure series has Steven Spielberg as its co-executive producer, and if you’ve seen his Jurassic Park, you know the shot I’m talking about. Remember the numerous times that those visitors to Jurassic Park gazed up in wonder at the sight of the lumbering dinos? Well, that struck-dumb pose—all heads tilted heavenward, eyes glistening with amazement at some fabulous special effect-is also a signature moment in every episode of seaQuest DSV I’ve seen.
People aboard the 21st-century DSV (Deep Submergence Vehicle) are forever in thrall to their own technology. The ship’s captain, Nathan Bridger (played by Roy Scheider), leads his crew in slack-jawed gaping at magisterial sights beneath the sea. It’s a clever manipulation of the viewer: You figure, if they’re so impressed, I ought to be too-even if what the seaQuest crew is goggling at is just a school of dolphins slipping past a porthole. Essentially Star Trek with the bends (”Beneath the surface lies the future!” Scheider intones over the show’s opening credits), seaQuest is also the highest-minded entertainment on television. Just like his chum George Lucas, who oversaw last year’s pulp-fiction educational bomb, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, Spielberg wants to instruct TV watchers even as he razzle-dazzles them.
And so Scheider’s Bridger—a granite face atop an iron-spike spine—strides around the seaQuest, making thundering pronouncements like ”There’s more history at the bottom of the ocean than in all the museums in the world!” Plots double as teaching plans: Did you know that there are active volcanos under the sea? Scheider has said that he sees Bridger as a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Popeye. Would that Bridger had that much personality, that much craggy warmth. No, Bridger is an effective character in precisely the same manner as other sci-fi muckety-mucks. Like Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk and Next Generation‘s Picard, he’s a stiff, humorless SOB with a brooding sense of morality.
Bridger’s very coldness enables the rest of the seaQuest to be manned (and womanned) by fuzzier, friendlier mammals. There’s Lucas (Jonathan Brandis), a 16-year-old computer whiz who is just obnoxious enough to be credible; there’s Kristin Westphalen (Dynasty‘s Stephanie Beacham), a tart-tongued but humane marine biologist. Most of all there’s Darwin the dolphin, who is, through the miracle of TV writers’ dreams, able to communicate with people. Talk about lovable: All Darwin wants out of life is an occasional pat on the snout and the opportunity to say, ”Bridger is family… Darwin loves Bridger.” Dammit, I’d lay down my life for that little fella, and so would everyone in seaQuest DSV. The series’ second episode, in which Darwin nearly died from what looked like little more than the flu, raised a flood of tear-duct salt water in the Tucker household.
So far, seaQuest hasn’t achieved the kind of nuttily intricate, oddball- festooned plots that make the Trek shows objects of cult adoration. The closest the show has come to colorful eccentricity was an episode in which star-everywhere-in-the-world-but-here Topol appeared as an archaeologist whose deep-sea dig unearthed fabulous, if soggy, historical documents. Various Middle Eastern countries squabble for the rights to these treasures, and the villain of the piece is Libya, which fires a depth charge that… that nearly hits Darwin! Ooh, boy, was Captain Bridger steamed.
What seaQuest needs more than anything else is a greater variety of intruders into the submarine. Perhaps Spielberg ought to do a little media mindblowing and coax the star of one of seaQuest’s time-period rivals—Martin Lawrence of Fox’s Martin—to guest-star as an anarchic visitor to the super-duper sub. Lawrence’s hip-hop acting rhythms could really jump-start this show and give Scheider and his costars a new energy level to aim for. Let Martin put on a wet suit and take a ride on Darwin: You go, boy! C+